Your Questions: Answered

Can I keep chickens in my back garden?

Yes, you can keep chickens in your back garden, provided that it is big enough and is adequately fenced to prevent them from escaping, and to stop predators getting in. 

Can I keep cockerels together?

You can keep cockerels together, however, be aware that they may crow for a considerable proportion of the day and that the crowing starts early! However, some cockerels may fight with each other and will need to be kept in separate housing if this is the case.

Can I keep hens and cockerels together?

Yes you can keep hens and cockerels together, however it is best to have at least four hens per cockerel to ensure he doesn’t wear them out.

Do chickens lay eggs all year round?

Chickens are seasonal breeders, so most hens will stop laying eggs as we move towards the winter months. This is due to the reduction in daylight hours. The reducing level of light in the winter months will affect both the nutritional intake of the hens and the production of hormones responsible for reproduction in the chicken, meaning less eggs are produced. Pure breed hens may stop laying completely from October to January.  Hens will also not lay if they are moulting as they divert their resources to grow feathers.

Do I need to feed my chickens overnight?

Your chickens do not require food or water in their coop overnight.

How can I tell if my chicken is male or female?

It is difficult to sex young chickens, and there are a number of different ways requiring varying amounts of skill and expertise, and often equally varying amounts of success. There are very many Henrys that became Henriettas and even more Gertrudes that became Gordons.

The most popular and least invasive way is to observe the size and colour of the wattle, and this will give a fairly accurate guess. Male growers will have a slightly more pronounced or taller and possibly a little fuller comb and wattle.  As they grow the combs will appear to be brighter in males than females and can be observed from about 1-2 months of age.  Female chickens can often hatch with their wing feathers, whereas male chickens do not begin to develop wing feathers until a few days after they hatch.

You need good eyesight and chicks of the same breeding to compare with each other – a mixed batch of chicks will be very difficult to sex this way. Additionally the feather shape on the neck can give a good indication with more rounded feathers on females and pointier ones on males. ​  As they mature feather colours will start to differentiate with duller colours on the females and more exciting colours appearing on the males. ​

If you have the luxury of time and can wait a few weeks to determine the sex of the chicks, behaviour can also be a good indicator of sex.  Cockerels are often more dominant even from an early age, although this method is not fool proof! If you observe one standing erect and ruffling their downy feathers, rushing first to the feed dish and making small cooing sounds to alert the others that they’ve found food can be good indicators of a cockerel. 

With some breeds the males will have larger spurs and a more upright posture and this will become more pronounced as they grow.  ​Vocalisation is nearly always the mark of a male and they will start crowing at around 4-5 months.  Whilst there are reports of hens crowing this is quite rare and a crowing bird is almost always going to be male. By this age the visual difference should be fairly obvious so the vocalisation probably won’t come as much of a surprise!​

How do I clean my chicken’s bottom?

To keep your chickens bottoms clean simply wash it in some warm, soapy water and make sure that they are completely dry before going back outside, especially if the weather is cold. Check to see if they have lice or mites, which could encourage faeces to clump around the vent area.  Keeping their nesting area, bedding and run clean and dry will also help to reduce the need to clean your chickens’ bottoms.

How do I know how old my chicken is?

The recommended way to buy chickens is to get them from a recommended chicken breeder as chicks and so you will know then how old your chickens are.  However in the last couple of years we have witnessed a huge, exponential uptake in rehoming of ex commercial chickens.  So then how can you tell how old your chicken is? It is also important from a health perspective to be able to gauge their age and also to predict their egg laying ability.

Many breeds of chickens will slow down their laying between 2-4 years, although some lay throughout their life, and this tendency gives rise to the enormous numbers of chickens being rehomed – commercial chickens will only typically stay in that setting for a maximum of a year as their egg laying prolificacy reduces and commercially they become less viable.  ​

Feathering can take up to 6 weeks so any smaller birds with evidence of downy feathers are likely to be under 6 weeks of age.  Tail feathers in cockerels will start to become apparent, while hens tail feathers are shorter and less remarkable. Cockerel’s combs will become fuller and deepen in colour from about 8 weeks of age. ​  ​The vent (where the eggs come from) for a pullet who has never laid will be very small – either a slit or a small circle.  Once she starts laying from about 20 weeks (but can vary by breed from about 16 weeks upto 28 weeks) the vent will become larger, more oval shaped and more visible on inspection. ​  Another way to tell the difference between a pullet and hen is by checking the width between the pubic (or pelvic) bones.​  

You should be able to feel these bones either side of the vent. With a pullet, the finger width between these two bones will be around two finger breadth. In a laying hen, the bones are more distant and you should be able to fit three or four finger breadths between them.​

How fast does a chicken’s heart beat?

A normal chicken has a resting heart rate of 200 – 300 bpm.

How many drinkers do I need for my chickens?

It depends on the size of your drinkers however the Chicken Whisperer recommends that you should allow one drinker per 4 chickens, and if you have multiple drinkers, space them out within their run/enclosure.

How many feeders do I need for my chickens?

It depends on the size of your feeders however the Chicken Whisperer recommends that you should allow one feeder per 4 chickens, and if you have multiple feeders, space them out within their run/enclosure. It is important to remember to keep feeders and drinkers out of reach of wild birds and rodents to reduce the risk of disease transmission.

How much food do chickens eat daily?

On average the recommended daily feed consumption of layers pellets is 120gm per day.  This amount will vary based on breed.

How much water do chickens drink daily?

The average daily water consumption per chicken is 120mls.

How old does my chicken need to be before I can tell whether it is male or female?

It is not always easy to determine whether your chicken is male or female.  There are a number of ways to determine the sex of your chicken but it may take some weeks to be sure one way or the other and even then experienced chicken owners have been known to make mistakes!  The older the chicken the easier it is to establish whether they are male or female – the longer you can leave it the easier the job will be!

Should I bring my feeders in at night?

It is not necessary to remove feeders and drinkers at night unless you are worried about rats, or if the weather is forecast to be particularly bad.  Very cold (freezing) weather can make plastic drinkers and feeders brittle, leading to breakages.

High winds and heavy rain can lead to wasted food and broken/damaged drinkers and feeders.  Your chickens do not require food or water in their coop overnight. It is important to remember to keep feeders and drinkers out of reach of wild birds and rodents at all times to reduce the risk of disease transmission.

Should I provide a dust bath for my chickens?

Yes, dust baths are useful for keeping chickens clean and parasite free! If you add some Nettex Total Hygiene Powder to the dust baths it will discourage mites and lice from living on your chickens. Dust baths can also be great for encouraging social interaction within the flock, and encourages them to perform natural behaviours which supports good welfare for your flock.

What do I need to keep chickens?

The Chicken Whisperer and Nettex recommend the following essentials for keeping chickens:

  1. A good quality coop which is easy to clean and maintain, treated weekly with the Total Mite Kill range to help manage the threat of red mites.
  2. An attached run made from weldmesh, which is secure from predators and covered with a clear waterproof roof to keep them dry.
  3. Feeders, drinkers, feed and bedding.
  4. First aid kit including Nettex Poultry Power Drops, Nettex Anti-Feather Pecking Spray and Nettex Wound Care Spray.

  5.  Essential hygiene and nutritional products such as Nettex Vit Boost Tonic to support health and vitality all year round and Ground and Bedding Sanitiser to help keep your chickens environment clean and free of dangerous worm eggs and bacteria.

What is the normal temperature of a chicken?

A normal chicken has a temperature of 40.6 – 43 degrees Celsius.

What predators should I be concerned about?

Predators to look out for when keeping chickens include:
• Foxes
• Badgers
• Rats
• Mink
• Polecats and ferrets
• Neighbours’ dogs and cats

What should I feed adult chickens?

Chickens are monogastric omnivores, they have simple, single stomachs and will eat almost anything!  As hens start to lay they should move to layers pellets and the number of treats should be limited.  Poor nutrition will lead to a reduction in egg laying and egg quality.   There are DEFRA regulations regarding feeding chickens which stating that it is illegal to feed kitchen scraps, leftovers or catering waste to poultry as it may have the potential to spread notifiable or other diseases. ​  It is also inadvisable to feed wild bird food to chickens, due to the risk of the chickens entering the human food chain.

For more information on the DEFRA Regulations please see the following link:

What should I feed chicks?

Chicks don’t feed for the first 24/48 hours – as they will have digested the yolk (similar to our placenta) prior to hatching.  After this time they will start to eat chick crumb.  It is advisable to put the chick crumb into a small dish and water in another shallow dish.  Pop marbles or stones into this dish so that the chicks can see the bottom of the water​  and limit the risk of drowning.  Chick crumbs should be fed until they are 6 weeks of age.

When should I move from chick crumb to layers pellets?

Chick crumbs should be fed to the chicks initially and then the chicks should be moved to growers pellets or mash/meal at about 6 weeks of age, and continued until they are 14/16 weeks or the onset of laying and then the birds should be fed layers pellets.

Which breed of chicken is easiest to keep?

There are not really any particular breeds that are easier to look after, they are all pretty much the same, except for Silkies and Frizzles which aren’t water resistant and can’t fly, so if you are thinking about getting these breeds you will need a very dry run, no ladders and low perches. Hybrids are bred to be placid and easy going and tend to be good starter chickens.